The stakes are high, not just for the United States, but for the Middle East, where Syria’s strife has spilled over into neighboring countries and even prompted an Israeli airstrike Wednesday.
At a debate Wednesday night at the McCain Institute in Washington, regional analysts noted the humanitarian, diplomatic and strategic elements of the Syrian problem.
“Syria is unquestionably a place where humanitarian issues and [U.S.] strategic interests converge,” said Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, advocating a greater U.S. role in the conflict.
Mr. Kagan said that besides providing humanitarian aid, the U.S. must arm the rebels and impose a no-fly zone to turn the tide of the fight around the Syrian capital, Damascus.
“Given the stakes in Syria, it is not too high a price for the United States to pay,” he said.
This week, President Obama announced that the U.S. is providing an additional $155 million in humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. Mr. Obama said in an interview with The New Republic that he is wrestling with a decision on whether the U.S. should get involved.
“The fact is that everything that Obama said would happen if we intervened in Syria has happened because we didn’t intervene in Syria,” said Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic at Wednesday’s debate.
More than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the uprising against the Assad regime, according to the United Nations. Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria, told the U.N. Security Council this week that Syria had plunged into “unprecedented levels of horror.”
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition activists said more than 65 people, including young boys, were found bound and shot execution-style in the northwestern city of Aleppo on Tuesday. The bodies were pulled from a canal. It was not clear who was responsible for the killings. The Assad regime blamed the deaths on the Nusrah Front, an Islamist rebel group that the U.S. has listed as a terrorist group.
Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said the U.S. should not get involved in Syria, calling the conflict an “ethnic war.”
“Only the Syrians can save Syria,” he said.
“If America thinks it can get in the middle of this and decide who is going to be a winner we better be prepared to invest billions of dollars,” Mr. Landis added. “It is very difficult to solve this humanitarian problem, but to think that we can save Syria is a fool’s errand.”
Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations, said the eventual end state in Syria is far from clear.
“At the end of the day, this Arab Spring is authentic and legitimate because for the first time Arabs own, for better or worse, their own politics,” said Mr. Miller, a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Donor countries, led by oil-rich Persian Gulf nations, at a meeting in Kuwait on Wednesday raised more than the U.N. goal of $1.5 billion to help Syrians affected by the civil war.
The conflict has left more than 4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including 2 million Syrians who have fled their homes inside the country, and created more than 630,000 refugees. The refugees are pouring into Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. Most are women and children.
Mr. Kagan predicted that it would take the Assad regime using chemical weapons before the Obama administration responds more forcefully to the conflict.
“Anyone who thinks that Assad will go down without using every weapon, that seems to me to be a fool’s errand,” he said.